Using Positioning to Create Value
Starting out as a solo consultant? Feeling like your established professional services business is ready to level up? It’s always the right time to get your positioning right.
The place where you position your business has immense implications for its shape, strength, and longevity. When you clarify your positioning, making decisions about everything from marketing to client interactions becomes dramatically easier.
The result is more confidence, more clarity, and more money. We’re all looking for that.
So let’s get started.
Set the Foundation
The word “positioning” can often have a clinical, calculating feel about it, with hints of a winner-take-all vibe. This leads some businesses to really lean into it and others to move away from that dedication.
But positioning is actually the foundation of all of your communication with prospects and clients. In other words, it’s the best way to communicate your value to your future clients while helping them to develop trust in you.
As Malcolm Gladwell described in his book Blink, many decisions are made using immediate, unconscious reactions rather than careful analysis. By positioning yourself as a specialist, potential customers have an at-a-glance opportunity to sense if you are someone who can deliver what they need when they need it.
This probably sounds complicated, but fortunately, effective positioning boils to three core questions. Answer those honestly, and you’re on your way.
Ask the Right Questions
Positioning helps you operate from a place of power, but only if you base your positioning on your expertise. When you start thinking through your positioning, it’s easy to fall into the trap of making choices based on the current wisdom on lucrative markets or trends. Step away from chasing other people’s power, grab your favorite beverage, and kick off your positioning efforts with your answers to these fundamental questions.
1. Who do you serve?
See and describe your ideal client in detail. What clothes do they wear? What car do they drive? What kind of cell phone do they use? What YouTube channels are on their playlist and what business books do they read? Do they drink coffee or tea, and where do they stop to get it?
The more you can envision these snapshots of your clients’ lives, the more adept you’ll be at speaking their language and meeting their needs.
Having these details front of mind will also sharpen your intuition as you nurture prospects into clients, helping you identify who is really going to love your services (and pay on time!), and who might benefit from someone else’s business.
Embrace the idea that you can let some clients go. The sooner that you and a prospect can determine if you’re a good match, the better. There’s no need to waste time and money on a relationship that’s only going to be mediocre for both parties involved.
The concept is simple: Know what your ideal clients look like and sound like so you’ll be more likely to recognize them when they appear. And if you get your positioning right, they will appear in greater numbers than you’ve seen before.
2. What do you do for them?
It seems obvious that a business owner should know exactly what services they provide, but many people get tangled up with this question. The heart of this problem is not confusion or lack of focus, but fear.
Whether or not we want to admit it, we’re all hustling to stay one step ahead of the voice that says that our business should be bigger. And bigger usually means more projects. More billable hours or larger per-project fees. More clients.
If we’re going to grow, the thinking goes, we should offer more services to an expanding roster of clients, solving an increasing number of problems from a variety of angles, right?
It feels counterintuitive, but the truth is that an increase in perceived value comes from making a very specific claim of expertise.
Again: When you let go of the idea that you have to be good at covering all of the bases and focus on specialized expertise, you increase your worth in your clients’ eyes. Both demand for your services and your rates go up as a result.
Facing fears about specializing
Many businesses muddle around this question for years because they run smack into a cloud of insecurities, which range from not knowing which specialty to choose to not trusting that the market will be large enough to support them if they specialize.
While it’s easy to believe that a well-rounded skills portfolio is safer than a subspecialty, the opposite is true. Think about it—would you trust a contractor who said he could build your house, choose exquisite Persian furnishings for the decor, and take care of pest control?
You’d (correctly!) assume that this person was either a novice or overextended. Either way, quality would suffer in some area, and no one wants to pay good money for mediocre results.
Experts, on the other hand, have a narrow but deep focus, which communicates experience and expertise in a way that generalists can’t. Clients are attracted to professionals offering a cultivated level of knowledge, so choose to offer it.
Letting go of some of the services you’ve been offering can feel like you’re limiting your options, but don’t get paralyzed by that fear. Chart a course that is working well for you now on multiple levels (satisfaction, financial gain, career development, etc.) and give yourself permission to shift directions in two to three years, if needed. Remember that you can always change your mind.
3. How are you different?
Once you know what you want to offer and who you want to offer it to, it’s time to consider what sets you apart from other businesses in your field.
At this point, traditional business advice states that you should research the competition so you know how to distinguish yourself from the herd.
Skip that whole stress-inducing scene and spend your time more productively. In most fields, companies aren’t engaged in a high-stakes drama where they’re barely beating competitors for contracts.
Instead, take a closer look at your relationships with your clients and dive into their thought processes.
See yourself through your client’s eyes
The tricky part of this business analysis is escaping your own perceptions to completely adopt your client’s perspective.
While you may be consumed with costs or efficiency in certain areas, realize that those issues might not be on your clients’ radars whatsoever. They may be focused on other concerns that don’t seem logical to you, but are crucial to them, like:
- Prestige and status
- Political advantages within their company
- Looking good for a promotion
- Other personal reasons
It’s completely natural to keep reverting to your own preferences or concerns, so be prepared to have to keep steering yourself back to the issue of what your client cares about.
Identifying what motivates your clients’ decisions is essential analysis. This understanding will help you pinpoint not only how they need help, and it will allow you to sell your services with more ease and far less struggle.
When you can identify problems that your client sees as difficult or expensive to solve and match them with your skills, everything from a sales pitch to fee negotiation becomes easier.
Lots of positive outcomes start flowing your way. Clients aren’t guessing what you can do for them. They immediately value your work and automatically tell others. More excellent client candidates start finding you, allowing you to work less, earn more, and enjoy the ride.
You get better at being an expert on creating value—for your clients and yourself.
When this sort of momentum starts happening your business can feel like magic, but it’s no accident. When you make the choice to really focus on who you serve, what you do for them and how you are different, doors of opportunity open wide.